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River – Fantastic Fest 2023 (Film Review)

2 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

knocked the ball out of the park with his feature debut Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes, a mind-bending science fiction comedy film that explores the notion of time travel, or rather it doesn't, as the possible science goes out of the window anyway. Three years on, the Japanese director is back with his sophomore release , which had its UK premiere at this year's FrightFest and screened in the US at .

The film follows the employees and guests at the picturesque Fujiya Hotel in Kibune, Kyoto, who find themselves in their own version of Groundhog Day as they become stuck in a time loop which resets itself every two minutes. As well as trying to get down to the bottom of why they are looping, the diligent staff at the Fujiya Hotel must keep their guests calm and prevent any other disasters from occurring.

River deals with a situation almost too nightmarish to comprehend, and yet Yamaguchi manages to tackle the topic with his signature charm and wit that makes the film utterly heartwarming. Sharp one-liners and absurdist humour keep what could have been a boring and repetitive plot fresh and exciting.

The setting of the film is utterly breathtaking, and with each loop, we get to explore more of its layers as well as the quirky characters that inhabit it, including Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) who we join at her initial position each time the clock resets. In such short bursts of time, information is slowly divulged to keep the sense of intrigue constant throughout the narrative.

The characters that carry the story are endearing from the moment you meet them, whether they are locked in a tear-jerking emotional scene, exuberantly exploring their newfound timelessness, or pondering the blurring lines of life and death the time loop presents, it's hard not to be locked into each and every one of their stories and charmed by their distinct personalities.

What works so well in River is Yamaguchi's ability to perfectly balance the film's emotional moments with laugh-out-loud humour and gripping sci-fi elements that never outshine each other or fall by the wayside. Each aspect of the film complements the next and adds to the greater tapestry of River as a whole.

As the credits roll, it's almost heartbreaking to say goodbye to the world that revolves around the Fujiya Hotel, a sign of Yamaguchi's masterful direction and the strong performances of the ensemble cast. A wonderful watch that is sure to put a spring in your step, River is a delightfully spacey romp with twists and turns around every corner wrapped in a scenic package.

River premiered at on September 24.